"The Illusionists: Witness the Impossible" is coming to town, featuring a powerful mix of magicians who are ready to dazzle us. Audiences will witness levitation, mind reading, and a full view water torture escape. There are seven different magicians in The Illusionists act with a specific title and specialty in the art of fantasy.
Jeff Hobson is one of the cast and known as The Trickster. He plays a personality based on Paul Lynde with the glitzy clothes of Liberace.
His television appearances include NBC's Magic On the Edge and Fox Family's Masters of Illusion. His awards include Stage Magician of the Year by the Academy of Magical Arts and Best Magic Review by the World Magic Awards.
Windy City hopped on Hobson while out on the road to talk about his flashy act.
Windy City Times: Hi, Jeff. Where in the world are you calling from?
Jeff Hobson: Schenectady, New York.
WCT: Are you in the middle of the tour?
Jeff Hobson: We are. New York this week then next week is Philadelphia. The following week is a split week between Rochester and Buffalo. We come to Chicago after that. I love it there.
WCT: So you have been here before?
Jeff Hobson: Are you kidding? I'm a Detroit boy. Where do you go for relief from there? You either go to Toronto by train or a four-hour drive to Chicago. Chicago was my hang out for many years.
WCT: Growing up in Detroit, did you always want to be a magician?
Jeff Hobson: It is the typical story of a kid seeing a magician and wanting to be them. I was stunned with wonder at one performance then years later I was onstage doing the same thing.
WCT: Do magicians just start off small and grow into bigger tricks?
Jeff Hobson: Yes, with a very few exceptions most start off with small slight of hand or easy to do tricks from a magic shop. Eventually you develop your own personality and flair. It becomes about the showmanship and entertainment. Your vehicle is the magic.
WCT: Did you do birthday parties when you started?
Jeff Hobson: Oh yeah. I have done about 24,000 shows in my career and 2,000 of them was when I was a teenager at multiple school shows, banquets for the Cub Scouts, birthday parties and family basement shows. I have done everything there is to do. Nothing surprises me at all. You can't phase me!
WCT: Is Vegas the ultimate for magicians?
Jeff Hobson: It was because Vegas has been through ebbs and flows during recession times. I was on the Strip for 15 yearssix shows a week with two shows a night. I had a wonderful time.
Now it seems like the cruise ship industry is the new Las Vegas because all of the acts that used to perform in Vegas now have moved over to cruise ships. It's not because they are old or anything but Vegas has changed. It is much more of a nightclub town and more edgy. Class is starting to wane away unfortunately.
WCT: When did you start fire-eating?
Jeff Hobson: I saw another magician do it and wanted to learn. I started to burn myself and I would scream. The audience would laugh so I decided to make it a comedy bit. I do it for comedy when I do it.
WCT: How was The Illusionists created?
Jeff Hobson: This unlike most shows just developed out of the mind of one rogue producer named Simon Painter. He is one of those quiet genius individuals who thinks a huge idea then it happens. He has other shows but always loved magic. He wanted the greatest magic show in the world. He called magicians to find out who was best. He put them all together and the next thing you know we are selling out on Broadway. It is really wild and great.
WCT: There is a big age range of magicians?
Jeff Hobson: Yes; I am actually I am the oldest. The youngest is 21. His name is Yu Ho-Jin and is from South Korea. He is known as The Manipulator. He wows audiences. He went to the championships of magic in Europe two years ago, nobody knew who was, and he blew everyone away. He was the best thing ever and now he is in our show.
WCT: There are escape artists, also?
Jeff Hobson: Yes. Andrew Basso The Escapologist is from Italy and only in his 20s. He defies death nightly. It is not a trick what he does. He actually goes upside down as Houdini did inside of a water chamber. He holds his breathe for many minutes while he gets out of handcuffs and tries to escape from this thing. We are pretty nervous when we watch it every night. I don't even like watching it anymore. I just ask someone to find me if it goes wrong so I can find help.
WCT: You are playing a character modeled after Liberace?
Jeff Hobson: I have always loved the old school guys like Paul Lynde, and Rip Taylor. I love the flamboyance of that. As a matter of fact right now the costume that I wear in the show for the finale I have shoes with all Swarovski rhinestones, over 1,000 on the shoes with over 5,000 on the collar of my jacket. I bring it out and I am quite sparkly.
I think I am old-school with a new-school twist.
WCT: I heard you opened for Phyllis Diller.
Jeff Hobson: I did. That was years ago and I thought she was old then in '80s then of course she only died a dew years ago and was still performing at her age. She forgot my name three times. She would stick her head offstage and say, "What's your name, darlin'?"
WCT: So this is an homage to the theatrics of the past. You are not making fun of them?
Jeff Hobson: Exactly. I think I am the last guy on Earth doing this style. People call me "very Vegas, kitschy and campy," but there is nobody doing it anymore.
I worked a charity show with all of the top comedians not too long ago. They didn't know me and I didn't know them. We are just doing a couple of minutes for this charity. I went on last and got the most laughs. They asked me where I have been and I told them I have been working. I think I have been doing it so long that it has gone out of style and back in style again!
WCT: The showmanship with glamour and glitz is not around as much.
Jeff Hobson: People want to see that because so many think entertainment is glamorous. We still have to play the part. People want to escape their hum drum lifestyle. That is why movies are movies.
Reality television just kills me. I have no idea why anyone watches the Kardashians. If you want drama, just look at the bills you have to pay every month. Now that is drama!
WCT: Do you put a lot of money back into the act?
Jeff Hobson: My act is very simple. I just do a few tricks. I don't want the audience to remember my tricks just that I was funny. I want them to pee their pants!
WCT: I loved magic as a kid and would put on shows in my garage.
Jeff Hobson: Oh, so you are a hobbyist. Then you will recognize my egg-bag trick that I do at the end. We will see if you remember it when I am done.
WCT: Some people love figuring out a trick but sometimes its best to just enjoy the show.
Jeff Hobson: That is the different cultures of the world. It is best to lay back and enjoy it. In America, we are a television generation where we like to watch. In China, people are insulted if they can't figure it out. Chinese audience members will talk amongst themselves to try to solve it. Isn't that interesting?
The Illusionists make magic at the Cadillac Palace, 151 W. Randolph St., March 10-22. For more information, visit www.BroadwayInChicago.com or www.theillusionistslive.com .